Two years ago, I proposed a motion to the London Young Labour Conference which sought to introduce mandatory positions for black, Asian and other ethnic minority members on its 22-strong elected committee. This Committee represents over 15,000 young Labour Members across London.
Currently, there is only one position for ethnic minorities – the designated BAME Officer – whose responsibility is to ensure that the views of ethnic minorities are heard. Of the outgoing Committee, only four of 22 were from an ethnic minority.
This is despite London being the most diverse city in the UK in which nearly half of its population will be BAME at the end of the decade and ethnic minorities are projected to be the majority of under 24s.
How can we as a political party purport to serve the interests of Londoners but fail to do this in our own house? Especially in a youth organisation which aims to represent the most diverse city in our country.
There is already a rule that at least half of the elected bloc positions should be reserved for self-defining women, with an aim to increase the representation of this group. So there was precedent for affirmative action.
By just two votes that motion failed in 2015. The room was divided. Although there was a comradely debate, I recall two particular contributions from members. The first, a white man, proclaimed “with this [motion for mandatory BAME positions] and seven positions for women, what about us?” The second, from a black man, suggested this move was tokenism, promoting “special treatment”.
I was not surprised by these contributions but I was disappointed that they came from Labour members. As a party, Labour prides itself on equality, extending opportunity to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it; promoting progressive politics; being the voice of the ostracised. Identity politics is our politics.
Young Labour still has issues with BAME representation. As recently as last year BAME members were left feeling unwelcome and disenfranchised as the Young Labour Conference descended in to an extremely factional and hostile environment.
With this in mind, I sought to bring this motion back – cleaning-up many specifics and gaining popular support. I approached members in Labour’s moderate and Momentum faction, informing them that Young Labour needs to pave the way and if we actually want to be an inclusive organisation we need to work together – past actions cannot be sustained.
On Saturday, the motion passed unanimously, guaranteeing at least five BAME members on the elected Committee. History was made. But it’s not enough and we cannot stop there. Issues surrounding race in Young Labour and the wider Party persist. Even with the passing of this motion we will face battles for our voice to be heard across Young Labour, in wider Labour Party structures and Council and Parliamentary selections. Change won’t happen in a year, or even two, but it will.
Siddo is a young Labour activist and Vice Chair of Enfield North CLP. He previously served as London Young Labour BAME Officer 2015-16